In 1992, when the Internet was still in its infancy, American novelist Neil Stevenson first spoke about the concept of ‘Virtual Reality’. A virtual space where anyone can create & use digital avatars to live, work and play online with limited or almost no restrictions.
He named this space ‘Metaverse’ where ‘meta’ means beyond, and ‘verse’ refers to the word universe.
Neil further mentioned that Metaverse would be the successor of the Internet as we know of today, an escape of sorts from a Dystopian reality.
What kind of Dystopian reality?
According to his early 1990s projection, the global economy we live in today has already collapsed, federal governments across the world have lost their power on controlling their currencies, and a handful of giant corporations control the world.
Interestingly, the big tech companies are working tirelessly to build the same future [minus] the Dystopia he mentioned.
Today’s tech giants, namely Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Apple, are racing against time to claim their dominance on Metaverse. However, this virtual universe will co-exist with a physical one in which we live in.
In 2014, Facebook acquired Oculus VR, the virtual-reality technology company for $2 billion.
Ⓒ Image by Robyn Beck — AFP/Getty Images
In October 2021, Facebook revealed its plan of hiring 10,000 people in the European Union to develop its metaverse. Facebook also renamed its corporate name to ‘Meta’ to stay on top of the curve.
To a significant number of Facebook users, Metaverse may sound like an idyllic place to spend time. Especially, at an estranged time when #Covid19Pandemic has locked us down. And human physical contact has been the major casualty.
Enter Metaverse to address this pain point revolutionize our lives and become an extension of the physical world where #Covid19 does not influence how we interact and have contact with others around us.
Some questions you might have:
Do we really need Metaverse?
Will it really improve our daily lives on the Internet?
Will it manipulate our perception of reality? OR
Do we really have an imaginary world controlled by tech Giants?
According to many geeks, this year is poised to be the year of the Metaverse. An AR-based space that could change how we live and interact with others.
Think of it as an IoT (Internet of Things), that you’re not just looking at but also living in.
Your digital avatar will inhabit the Metaverse. Instead of reading or researching about a particular topic, you’ll get to experience it. Being a part of it.
Doing those hard work yourself digitally, along with similar-minded people who want to be part of your experience?
Let’s simplify it a bit further: Imagine you’re under some lockdown, stuck far away from your family and you would like to stay in touch with them?
Thanks to the fast internet connectivity, first of all – Through video calls. That’s the closest you can imagine as of today.
You might try a ‘Watch Party’ which is a new concept for people to watch videos together in real-time on OTT platforms like Amazon Prime Video, Netflix, YouTube, Facebook, etc. Once a Watch Party is started, participants can watch videos, no matter it’s live or recorded, and simultaneously interact with one another around them in the same moment.
Such experiences are also being offered by many video games where you can collaborate with other players through chat as well as voice and play the game.
But that’s not close enough. Isn’t it?
As your family sits together, digs into a meal, or even play your favorite card game, you feel left out.
Metaverse promises to change that concept. Here, you can meet your near & dear ones in a virtual space. You may host a virtual party with your friends. You can play your favorite game in your choice of a digital avatar.
Actual movements and conversations can take place.
This is what the Metaverse promises to offer – ‘A Feel It Experience’ which is not restricted to sight or sound.
The concept of virtual reality is not really new. It has evolved over time. Video games have had the VR concept for a while now.
That reminds me of my PS3 and Xbox 360 which kept me occupied during the early 2000s. Or even that Road Rash game where my exciting moment was to kick and thrash other bikers including that cop ? which none will dare to do in the real world.
And I can’t ignore the unparalleled gaming experience of PUBG (PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds) which gained more popularity when the Indian government banned it completely in 2020.
Some of the biggest gaming companies across the world i.e., Grand Theft Auto, Fortnite, and Roblox have already built their own virtual worlds with their own virtual economies, their own virtual currencies storylines, and characters.
Mana in cryptocurrency is a great example where it’s primarily used as an in-game currency. Users can buy and sell items within the game using Mana. Decentraland Mana has been a rewarding investment for many in 2021 and the world is looking for some great returns from the crypto space in the days ahead.
Metaverse has some of these gaming elements, but it’s not going to be limited to becoming some kind of a video game only. It will be an intersection point where reality or real-life meets imagination or the virtual world.
The characters in Metaverse will be real human beings, but their world will be entirely fictional, made up of virtual elements which are referred to as our real life.
With the help of the entire ecosystem offered by Metaverse, you can now buy, rent, flip, or even sell properties in the digital world and the ownership is through non-fungible tokens (NFTs) title.
Metaverse platforms like Decentraland, Earth2.io, The Sandbox, Axie Infinity are now a craze these days for buying and selling digital properties in the Metaverse these days. All you need to transact in the metaverse space is a well-funded digital wallet. Just convert your real money (USD) to various cryptocurrencies like Bitcoins, Ethereum, OR the native currencies of the particular Metaverse in which you are dealing like MANA or Sandbox and store them in your digital wallet.
Ⓒ Image by Decentraland – Australian Open
You may even buy a virtual piece of land in the moon metaverse which further allows you to: create states, cities, economies, items. Rent out land plots and sell them. Make a profit as a co-owner of the game.
Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg says that “Metaverse will be a sort of teleportation device where one can explore the virtual world while being physically present at home.”
That reminds me of Avatar, a 2009 Hollywood Sci-Fi movie where paraplegic Marine Jake Sully & Dr. Grace Augustine were able to infiltrate the community of Na’vi people with the use of the “Avatar” identity. Their physical mind was controlling the Avatars while the real body was resting in another place.
Ⓒ Image by IMDB
Going by the trends, It’s quite obvious to say that we’ll be spoiled for choice.
There are different versions of virtual worlds in the making:
- Facebook wants to be the numero uno in this space, but it’s not the only one in pursuit. A number of tech-heavyweights are added to the race.
- Apple is also gearing up to release new hardware and software services which according to industry experts could revolutionize the Metaverse experience.
- Microsoft has also joined the race by creating a digital platform called Mesh. This will incorporate virtual experiences directly into its existing products like Microsoft Teams.
- Metaverse can help make sense for smart glasses like Google Glass which has been the talk of the town for quite some time. Google is said to be working on multiple innovative augmented reality devices which are focused upon creating a separate and unique metadata platform.
- Then we have Disney which apparently is creating a Disney theme for Metaverse. It’s expected to be an extension of Disney’s films and streaming service.
According to Morgan Stanley, More Firms have already started embracing the Metaverse and Gaming Stocks have already benefited.
Ⓒ Image by Nike’s NIKELAND
In its latest video ad, Nike shows how its NIKE LAND on the Roblox Metaverse platform is a new virtual experience where sports has no rules. Your real-life movements unlock superpowers for more ways to play.
Several Governments are betting upon it too.
In 2021, the Government of South Korea announced the creation of a National Metaverse Alliance. Their objective is to bring different virtual worlds under one umbrella.
The city of Santa Monica became the first U.S. city that partnered with FlickPlay, a Metaverse company to launch its digital version of Downtown Santa Monica, in which players can win exciting rewards by collecting items hidden at various locations in the city.
Barbados is one step ahead by setting up an embassy in the Metaverse. They have signed agreements and tied up with a crypto-backed virtual world to set up a digital diplomatic mission.
Of course, the digital version of it.
The concept of Metaverse is no more just an experiment by a few tech geeks. Its rapidly evolving ecosystem has become an inevitable alternative to reality.
Henceforth, resisting it or being in denial is a bad idea. IMHO, asking questions about how it will operate is a good one.
Questions like these:
Do Meta workers ensure the Privacy of their users?
Is it an equitable space?
What lines do we need to draw?
How democratic and open source will it be?
And above all, will it be safe?
There are already reported incidents of crimes in the Metaverse.
Ⓒ Image by dem10
In December 2021, a woman in San Francisco got trapped in Meta’s Oculus headset while playing her favorite shooter game. It so happened that after entering the game, her digital avatar was approached by another user – a stranger who groped and harassed her digital avatar. When asked to stop, the perpetrator told the victim that it’s the Metaverse, I’ll do what I want, it’s horrid, and it’s not a one-off incident.
According to the non-profit Center for Countering Digital Hate, a violent incident occurs every seven minutes on a popular virtual reality world named VR chat, and this makes the concept challenging.
It needs to be noted that the slightest of touch or sensory experience is heightened. It’s been amplified to give you an immersive experience. So every crime that is committed can feel much more real and much more intense. And these issues are likely to get magnified once the metaverse expands.
How are tech giants planning to address such concerns?
Well! They can’t.
The safety page of Oculus, Facebook’s VR app platform simply states, “While we know that children under 13 may want to use Oculus devices, we do not permit them to create accounts or use Oculus devices.”
In March 2021, Meta’s chief technology officer Andrew Bosworth accepted that moderating what and how people express and react in the Metaverse is and at any meaningful scale practically impossible. No Artificial Intelligence technology hasn’t been able to predict that.
That’s being said brings us to the questions:
How safe is the Metaverse?
Especially for children?
Will it hamper their health? Both physical & mental?
The target audience for most of the tech giants is the younger audience – the children teenagers and young adults who spend a major portion of the day online.
Studies have already raised concerns that Metaverse is not safe for children.
Ⓒ Image by user850788
Several crimes like children being exposed to graphic sexual content, children adopting extremist views from strangers, children being groomed to repeat racist slurs, and children being subjected to sexual harassment have been reported so far.
All of which is already happening, and it’s apparently practically impossible for law enforcement agencies to track everything and restrict them.
There are monitoring software for parents to keep track of their child’s digital activities but they do have their own share of limitations.
Metaverse can change the world for the better, But it can also overstep its purpose.
Being a decentralized space, It can easily become a powerful tool for predators to commit more number of highly sophisticated online crimes. And this can be dangerous to individuals, corporates as well as governments bodies.
As it is, we are living in estranged times – our need for social interaction has been majorly restricted to contain the spread of #Covid19 – A deadly virus that has claimed the lives of more than 5 million so far.
Today, We’re relying on technologies to fill the void mainly meeting, collaborating, shopping, etc. Metaverse, on the other hand, promises access to the second life of sorts — an online space where people can meet, interact, shop, party, claim ownership of virtual land and even build a house if they want to.
But remember one thing, none of it will be real. You can’t physically touch any of them.
The basic objective is to make you forget reality. To escape the uniquely human elements of real life, like hugging a child, having lunch with friends, reading your favorite book while grabbing a cup of coffee, walking your dog, driving your first car, or stepping into a freshly painted house.
These are all staples of our real-world life, and can’t be replicated online.
What are the visible ‘pros’ of Metaverse? Can it be of any help to humanity?
Ⓒ Image by Gorodenkoff
Yes, It is. All India Institutes of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), New Delhi has implemented new digital surgery technology from Immersive Touch, a leading medical technology company building the digital surgery metaverse. Its Mission Rehearsal® VR platform gives surgeons the ability to virtually plan and simulate each patient’s unique anatomy in 3D, prior to entering the operating room.
Everything has its own share of pros and cons. Metaverse isn’t an exception.
- Sensory experiences cannot replace real emotions.
- Holograms can imitate but can’t replace human relationships.
- The Metaverse cannot become an alternative to our real life.
- It’s at the best going to be an imprisoned reality.
Ⓒ Featured Image by Diamond Dogs – Getty Images